Selective Color in Photoshop, is it the best-kept secret?

The selective color adjustment layer is a tool that can make your images pop off the page.  Almost every week someone emails me and says, “Blake, how do you make your photos pop in Photoshop?”  I usually respond with a multitude of answers because that is the most difficult question to answer.

You have to assume that by “pop” they mean to make them more exhilarating or attractive.  Since the beginning of time, we as humans, have always been attracted to colorful things.  Go out into the woods and look around, what do you see?  A mix of gray, brown, black, and drab greens.  However, when you see a contrasting red berry sticking out of a bush or a lone flower growing next to a tree, you immediately flock to it.

Regarding what I know of humans and the question at hand, “How do you make your images POP,” my response is the Selective Color adjustment layer in Photoshop.   Before you go running to the HSL layer, hear me out.  The HSL Layer is great as a technical tool to get your colors dialed in with the proper hue, saturation, and lightness, but the Selective Color Adjustment Layer is more of a refinement tool.

Selective Color works on the principle of available color and color mixing.  It allows you to increase or decrease the percentage of a color within the color in question.  For instance, if you have a sunset that is predominantly blue, but you want it to be a bit warmer, you can go into the Selective Color adjustment layer and modify the percentage of the colors available in the given color.

Does that mean you are changing the hue in the color blue?  Absolutely, but it is not as heavy handed as the HSL adjustment layer because it does not allow you to change the color property by rotating it around the color wheel.  Instead, it removes or adds the percentage of the available color within the color.  As you experiment with it, you can go into the color blue, then change the red to 100%.  It does not change the color blue to 100% red it just boosts the available red within the color blue.

Selective Color Adjustment Layer in Photoshop Chart

The Selective Color Adjustment Layer accounts for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. However, you have access to Red, Green, Blue, and White also. An increase in Percentage of a color will yield more of that color while a decrease in percentage will effectively add its complement to the selected color.

Are you confused yet?

Good!  Watch this video tutorial, download the actions, and experiment with it on your own and I am sure you will realize soon enough why Selective Color is one of my go-to options for making my images “pop.”

In this tutorial, I will show you how to use selective color to boost sunsets, make grass a little greener, and make the cinematic effect.  Don’t forget to experiment on your own and couple the Selective Color Adjustment Layer with Blend If, Opacity, Blend Modes, and Masks!

Download the Actions

Blake Rudis
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer, he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it's all about the art and process synergy. He dives deep into complex topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside-the-box thinking so that you can use these tricks in your workflow today!
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